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Dr. Leo Rangell Headshot

What Did He Do?

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What did he do to deserve this? So far it is all charm, bluster, rhetoric. He has hardly been in office nine months. Being cool is not in itself that great. "And he can hardly pass a mirror without stopping," one such nay-sayer adds for good measure.

Besides the many who are rightly proud, there are many -- perhaps not quite as many, remembering the not-too-long-ago election results -- who begrudge this anointing of our young president with the Nobel Prize.

Pointing out that many are denouncing the award as "absurd," Tim Rutten asks -- I will paraphrase his remark -- "Is this year's prize, then, to reward words and not deeds?"

This does call for a consideration of "doing," acting, accomplishing, bringing something about.
What is "action"? What are its components? Of what does it consist? Borrowing from a parallel question put to another young president, "It depends on what the definition of is, is." The same goes for action. An act does not start when the hand reaches an object.

Action also has many external forms and multiple roots. An act -- a voluntary act, that is -- arises from rivulets in the mind, the organic soil of which is lodged in the brain.

In the background of any act is a wish -- which may be unconscious -- that progresses to an intention, then to will, a decision, and at the conscious end, transmission of an impulse to a body part, which makes a move into the outer world.

On that surface, we know today that an act can be other than a physical change. There is psychic reality as well as material reality. A thing is not only what you can touch; it can also be what you feel. A mood is a thing, an entity. It comes from somewhere and can lead to something. Depression can lead to death; anxiety to almost anything.

With that extended thinking, President Obama did much at once. His very election affected a major change, altering the mood of the country and the world from cynicism and doubt to optimism and hope. Rationality entered the seat of power. The perception of a bully was altered to the likelihood of a friend. Nations as units might now expect to argue with reason.

This was "doing" a great deal, in one move, by bringing about one event. It was on this basis that the Nobel nomination was made, actually a few weeks, not eight months, after Obama acceded to his new post.

But more is in the offing, in progress, not assured but awaiting future developments. The president has announced his wishes, intentions, and would-be decisions on most areas of conflict, health, economics, immigration, moral and ethical issues.

The Nobel Peace Prize did not depend on the outcome of these intentions, which are much in the hands of others. Neither achievements nor future failures on these fronts can be attributed to Obama alone; outcomes will depend on the group process.

The surprise Prize may have shocked and disturbed some, but is not inexplicable to any. Obama joins many other leaders who, in his words, have been transformative.

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